Open letter to: Governor Phil Scott; Lt. Governor Molly Gray; Becca Balint, Senate Pro Tempore; Jill Krowinski, Speaker of the House; Brian Campion, Chair of the Senate Education Committee; Kate Webb, Chair of the House Education Committee; Janet Ancel, Chair of the House Committee on Ways & Means; Ann Cummings, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee; Oliver Olsen, Chair of the State Board of Education; Senator Ruth Hardy, Task Force Co-Chair; Representative Emilie Kornheiser, Task Force Co-Chair

November 18, 2021

Dear Vermont Policy Makers:

The North Country Supervisory Union Board is appealing to you at this time on behalf of our children with the greatest level of needs.

Based on our preliminary FY23 special services budget, it is the belief of the North Country Supervisory Union (NCSU) board that the census block grant model will result in a significant reduction in state special education funding for NCSU and the board is aware of other supervisory unions/districts that will also see meaningful reductions for fiscal year 2023. While we support the educational intent of Act 173, we also believe the Legislature did not envision school systems with high needs being adversely impacted financially.

As you are well aware, Act 173 provides for some adjustment and herein lies the importance of the weighting study called for in the law. In addition, Section 11 of Act 173 calls for a “census grant supplemental adjustment” in relationship to pupil weighting factors. The implementation of Act 173 can only happen equitably in conjunction with increased weighting - or some other means of supplemental adjustment for supervisory unions or districts that have in any year relatively higher costs for students who require additional supports. In short, the implementation of a block grant and increased funding for factors such as poverty, English language learners, and rurality must go hand in hand. In fact, the implementation of Act 173 without increased weighting for poverty, or other categorical aid, would adversely impact revenues for SU/SDs with high child counts and in turn ultimately impact student services or local tax rates.

NCSU stands to realize a reduction of over $900,000 dollars in special education support as a result of moving to a census block grant. Of note, NCSU has approximately 625 students who qualify for Individual Education Plans (IEPs), who represent 24% of our student population.

The block grant is based on overall student enrollment, not on the “child count” of those receiving special education services. In addition to the fact that the model has a built-in bias making it fail to pass the equity test, it is likely unconstitutional under Vermont Law without substantial adjustments applied for differentiated needs.

The flexibility intended in Act 173 to advance a Multi-Tiered System of Supports is not achievable for SUs/SDs like ours and others. It would result in diminished state-level support for those schools that need it the most. Shifting the financial burden to local districts may promote the goal of cost containment but is inherently inequitable in terms of meeting the variable needs. It also fails to maintain efforts associated with Federal requirements for children with different needs across the state.

Because the Task Force on the Implementation of the Pupil Weighting Factors Report will only provide recommendations for the General Assembly to consider this next session, it is not possible for school districts to present budgets to voters for FY23 with a change in special education funding.

It is our firm belief that implementation of a census block grant must be deferred at least another year in order for the Legislature to come up with a model that accomplishes the improvement it seeks while taking into account the disposition on pupil weighting (or other aid) and to consider a supplemental adjustment as established in Section 11 of Act 173.

Sincerely,

Steven L Mason

NCSU Board Chair

Approved by the NCSU Executive Committee on November 18, 2021

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